Questions To Ask Graduate Students in Your School Search — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
8 min readApr 28, 2023

Do you have dreams of attending grad school but are unsure where to start? We’ve all heard horror stories about the daunting process of applying to postgraduate studies, so take a deep breath and let yourself relax! First things first: get ready for smart questions to ask graduate students.

Asking the right questions during your application stage can go a long way in making sure you find the perfect graduate school for you. Whether it’s finding out what student organizations a university offers or checking into financial aid availability — here are our top tips on clever questions you should be asking to simplify your grad school search.

Networking should be an important part of the graduate program application process

Many applicants to graduate programs forget the importance of networking before applying. Instead, they limit their research to program websites and other online resources. While these are valuable resources for researching potential schools, it is also important to speak with current students and faculty as part of the process. Networking can provide insights into academic departments, faculty mentorship opportunities, student life, career placement support, campus culture, and more.

It can also create important relationships that may be beneficial when applying or during future job searches. Taking the time to network with those involved in a particular program or school can help you decide if it would be the right fit for you. Staying connected with these people can also provide invaluable advice and support throughout your academic career. Additionally, having a network of peers to share experiences and resources is critical for success in any graduate program.

Ultimately, networking should be viewed as an integral part of the application process, not just something you only think about when it comes time to apply. Investing time into building relationships now will pay dividends down the road!

Why should prepare questions to ask graduate students before applying to a graduate program?

It is important to carefully chose questions to ask graduate students before applying to a graduate program for several reasons. First, speaking with current or past students can provide valuable insight into the program and its various offerings. This can allow you to ask questions about courses, faculty, resources, and more. Additionally, it will help you understand what type of workload or culture exists in the program and whether or not it fits your career ambitions.

Secondly, talking with other students who have had similar experiences can provide advice on how to best prepare yourself before application submission. Thirdly, learning from those already in the program can give an idea of what challenges may be faced once enrolled as well as how successful they have been in navigating through these issues. Fourthly, these conversations give an insight into the job prospects available after graduation.

Lastly, speaking to students can help you discover what type of support is available throughout your studies and beyond.

Preliminary Steps

Start by evaluating the reputation of each program. Research what their pre-existing graduates are doing, keeping in mind that you’ll eventually be part of that group too. If possible, speak with program alumni to learn how their education has helped them in their careers.

Research, internships, and teaching assistantships are all assets that can help reinforce the knowledge received in the classroom. Ask schools which of these opportunities are available in their programs, and how they will be available to you.

As a prospective graduate student, your career goals will affect your academic decisions. To ensure that your program suits your professional aspirations, schedule meetings with the program director to discuss your learning goals. If they’re amenable to the discussion, it’s a great sign that they’re student-focused and take pride in their work.

The last thing you’ll want to do is spend years learning from a professor who doesn’t have any strong points in the area you’re interested in. Look up the professor’s research interests and their professional background. If possible, communicate with them to discover if there is an equal symbiosis between the concepts you’re passionate about and what they teach.

How should you contact students and who should you speak to?

Before even thinking about questions to ask graduate students, the main goal is to identify the right students to talk to. When selecting graduate students to talk to when applying for a graduate program, it is important to ensure that you are speaking with those who have had success in the program. Ideally, you should seek out individuals who have graduated from the program or who are currently enrolled and excelling academically. Speak with multiple students if possible so that you can gain different perspectives on what the program has to offer. Additionally, make sure to ask any questions you may have about their experience to get a better understanding of what it’s like to be part of the graduate program.

It is also important to pick graduate students that work on topics similar to yours and have a similar profile to yours when applying for graduate school. Additionally, talking with student club leaders or student representatives of the graduate student association can provide insight into what each respective department expects from prospective students. This knowledge can help guide your decisions regarding which universities or departments might be best suited for your own personal goals. Current students can be contacted via a variety of channels, such as email, social media, or even through student clubs or organizations.

You should also consider attending virtual events hosted by the university or program to get an understanding of the atmosphere and culture within the community.

Connecting with alumni of your prospective program is also a great way to get even more insight into the environment. Alumni can provide invaluable advice and guidance on how to make the most out of one’s experience and what life may be like after graduating from the program.

Finally, it is important to always remember to be respectful and professional when contacting students or faculty. Always keep questions relevant and concise, while being mindful not to overwhelm anyone with too many questions.

Sample questions to ask graduate students

When researching potential graduate programs, it is important to remember that much of the relevant information can be found on the program website. It is a good idea to explore the website thoroughly and make sure you understand what they are offering. When talking to students, you should avoid wasting valuable time asking questions that are already answered on the school’s website. Instead, you should focus on less tangible aspects such as school culture, faculty-student relationships, and student life that may not be evident from a website. You should seek to find out how satisfied students are with the program, how supportive faculty members are in helping them reach their goals and other qualities that will help you determine if the program is a good fit for you. By doing this kind of research in addition to exploring facts and figures found on the program’s website, you can make an informed decision about which graduate program is right for you.

Here are a few questions you could potentially ask:

What inspired you to choose this school?

This question is not perhaps one that would typically be on a list of essential things to ask the current graduate student. However, it can often provide insight into a school’s identity and strengths. For instance, if the student mentions specific professors, events like visiting scholars or guest speakers, or even a graduate student association, this could be a good indication of the level of academic and cultural stimulation the school offers.

What are some of your most memorable experiences at the school?

This question is a good one because it can reveal how closely knitted the graduate community is, what events the school organizes, and encourage the student to share a bit more about their life outside of class. Some students might mention research opportunities or clinical work, while others might talk about the fantastic town nearby.

What is the work-life balance like at this school?

Graduate school can be tough on one’s mental health, and for those seeking a balanced lifestyle, asking what life is like outside the classroom can provide valuable insight. Some students might share that their professors stress self-care, while others may cite particular programs, research centers, club activities, or even nightlife as ways to balance academic rigors.

How diverse is the student body, and what resources does the school offer for diverse students?

You must feel comfortable within your school’s community, especially when you’re far from home. Therefore, asking for more about diversity within the school can be helpful. Some students might connect you to someone who led a workshop on cultural competency, while others might be part of a student group dedicated to promoting equity and inclusive excellence.

What is the level of access and support provided by the faculty and administration?

Graduate school is a little different from undergraduate life. You’re expected to be independent, which means that you need to build relationships with faculty and resource coordinators for much of your academic and personal needs. Ask graduate students about their experience with office hours, how accessible are faculty when an assignment is due, or the choices of academic advisors.

Final words…

In conclusion, while many graduate school search processes can seem daunting, they can be made simpler by arming with smart questions to ask graduate students. By asking the correct questions — including questions about program structure, financial aid availability and how close to the workforce applicants are post-graduation — you can narrow down the selection of grad schools to those which really align with your values and interests. With a little extra effort during the questioning process, you will certainly know what exactly is needed for success when embarking on your grad school journey. With that being said, make sure to check out our graduate school application services if you still need help getting into the grad school of your dreams!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on April 28, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/